Skip to comments.'Little emperors' come of age -- China's 1-child policy
Posted on 11/28/2003 9:15:54 PM PST by DeaconBenjamin
It's been more than 20 years since China introduced the one-child policy. The first generation of 'Little Emperors' are grown up - and trying to find their place in a society of 1.3 billion people. In the following weeks, The Straits Times China Bureau will explore other population issues, such as the changing status of Chinese women.
BEIJING - Miss Ping Lei began her housemanship with a Tianjin hospital in July, and her biggest worry till now is not about handling patients or the long hours at work.
An only child, Ms Song Ying, 21, spends close to 2,000 yuan (S$420) on pampering herself every month.
'If you grew up as a single child like me, you would not have learnt much about getting along with others,' said the 23-year-old who was born in 1980, a year after China adopted the one-child policy.
'My parents and relatives all let me have my way at home.'
While news of the Sars outbreak and the launch of Shenzhou V have grabbed the headlines this year, another significant development is quietly brewing in Chinese cities: the first generation of China's 'Little Emperors' are finally coming of age and entering the workplace.
Growing up, they were derided as weak, pampered, lazy and incapable of taking care of themselves when compared to youths who were not from single-child families.
Miss Ping's comments appear to confirm the worst fears that many sociologists and media commentators have about the only child, known here as du sheng zi nu.
These youths now number 80 million and counting.
And as the first generation come of age, many Chinese are asking: Will our worst fears about them come true, how different are they from their peers who have siblings, and how will young people like Miss Ping affect modern Chinese society?
Recent research appears to have eased the first two worries at least, suggesting that the differences between the only child and other Chinese youths become negligible as they grow older.
At a young age, when parents have an overwhelming influence on the child's behaviour, it is only 'natural' that the only child behaves badly because he is pampered by everyone.
As he grows up, his parents' influence on him weakens and the only child's behaviour becomes affected more by external conditions - be it the mass media, his university education, or work environment - which affects everyone equally, regardless of their family background.
That is the thesis of Nanjing University's Professor Feng Xiaotian, arguably the foremost expert on the social phenomenon of the only child, having tracked the issue since 1987.
He believes that this generation of Chinese youths have been shaped more by the socio-economic forces unleashed by the opening up and reform of China in the last quarter century, rather than the one-child policy.
In a study conducted between 2000 and 2002, for instance, he found that the only child was just as independent when it came to job hunting as those who did not grow up in single child families.
In other areas like adaptability to working life, views on marriage and family life, the differences between the two groups of Chinese youths were almost negligible.
Prof Feng told The Straits Times: 'There are some minor differences, of course. For instance, it has turned up in many separate studies that the only child is generally lazier.
'But these differences are not significant enough to distinguish them from those who are not from single child families.'
Anecdotal evidence from interviews with Chinese youths who grew up in single child families appears to support Prof Feng's arguments, with many saying that they stopped behaving like 'Little Emperors' when they entered university or started work.
'Once you step outside of your own home, no one will care if you are an only child or not, or give you preferential treatment just because you are a du sheng zi nvu,' said Zhu Weijia, 23, a technical assistant with a foreign trading company in Shanghai.
'You'll have to learn and adapt just like everyone else.'
Prof Feng's findings and arguments, if correct, would go some way in refuting many long-standing criticisms of China's one-child policy.
But this is merely one facet of the debate over China's controversial population policy, which some experts have blamed for accelerating the ageing of Chinese society by drastically reducing the proportion of young people.
By international standards, a country is considered to be an ageing society when people aged 60 and above account for at least 10 per cent of the population.
China became an ageing society in 2000. At present, 10.2 per cent, or about 130 million people in the country are aged 60 or above.
Their numbers are increasing by 3 per cent annually, according to the state media. By 2050, there will be 430 million Chinese aged 60 or above, or about a quarter of the population then.
The immediate concern among some population experts is whether a married couple, both from single child families, can earn enough to support four elderly parents between them.
In years to come, this demographic change will affect China's labour supply and stretch its medical resources to the limit, though neither trend is immediately apparent, especially given the abundance of cheap surplus labour pouring from the rural areas.
When the Chinese government introduced the one-child policy in 1979, they pledged that couples who are themselves from single child families can be allowed to have two children.
This was not an issue in the 1980s and 1990s because few couples fit that demographic profile, but in the decades to come, millions of couples throughout China will have the option to raise a second child if the current rules are unchanged.
But so far, no comprehensive study has been conducted to gauge how Chinese youths who grew up alone see this issue: whether they prefer to have one, two, or no children, and how their own experience as an only child would shape that decision.
Casual conversations with couples in major cities like Beijing and Shanghai suggest that they increasingly agree with the rationale for the one-child policy.
Some do not even want children, not least because of the high cost of raising a child these days.
But others, like Miss Ping Lei, say they prefer to have two children as that is 'healthier' and 'more normal'.
For population experts like Professor Li Xiaoping, the debate is hardly an academic one.
Any relaxation of the one-child policy would have disastrous consequences for China, where resources and job opportunities are already stretched thin by its 1.3 billion population, he said.
Prof Li added: 'If there weren't so many single child families now, China's problems, like unemployment, would have been multiplied several times.' Some cities tweak one-child policy
BEIJING - China introduced the one-child policy in 1979 as a way to control its runaway population growth, though warning signs had been apparent from as early as the mid-1950s.
In 1955, for instance, several papers by population experts warned that China's population was growing too fast, and that the government should step up efforts to promote contraception, the China Newsweek magazine said in a recent issue.
But the warnings were ignored - and the consequences were telling. China's population rose above one billion by 1981, up from 700 million in 1964. By 1995, there were already 1.2 billion mainland Chinese.
The one-child policy was carried out most forcefully in the 1980s, but became almost unenforceable in the rural areas by the 1990s.
Still, the policy worked extremely well in the urban centres, though perhaps a little too well.
Major cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou have begun refining some aspects of the policy to cope with years of falling birthrates and an ageing population.
The one-child policy is still the cornerstone of China's population strategy, of course, though the authorities have clarified and, in some cases, expanded the instances when a couple can be allowed to have a second child.
For one, couples who are themselves from single child families can have two children. This is not a new ruling, and is instead a 'pledge' made by the government when the one child policy was first introduced.
But many ambiguities remain, and officials in many cities have issued clearer guidelines or made amendments to the population policy to better suit the local conditions.
The Beijing authorities have listed the nine types of parents who can be allowed to have a second child. These include ethnic minorities and couples from single child families.
But in Shanghai, where the population's rate of ageing has exceeded that for Germany and Japan, legislators are debating a draft law that would abolish the ruling that a couple (who are themselves from single child families) must wait four years before having their second child.
With all the changes afoot, the China Newsweek magazine contends that the country's generation of the only child may eventually be the only such generation in Chinese history. -- Chua Chin Hon
Nearly every way I look at this situation, it is not good for anyone involved.
seems that abortion is considered less of the two "problems"....
What a difference time makes. About 12 years ago, I rented an apartment in my house to a Chinese professor here in the states for the summer.
In the days before his departure, I asked if he wanted to take any American makeup items back to his wife and daughter. He politely refused, saying that they would look out of place and draw attention to themselves; Chinese women didn't wear much makeup.
As a professor, he was happy to be able to afford a sewing machine, color tv, and several fans.
Of course, I might be projecting here. As a female, 'pampering myself' usually translates to lotions, makeup, nail polish, etc. Maybe she's buying power tools.
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